This was the episode this season needed. Let me get that out of the way before I get nitpicky about a few things in a minute. Most of the people we care about made it through. But, despite that disappointment, the episode landed, and landed hard. Like a dragon on the ground after fighting its undead brother.
Going in, I thought that either Brienne or Jaime was going to die saving the other. I assumed that either Jon or Danaerys was going to die. I was also fairly certain that Jorah would eat it, and Theon, and I was hopeful that some other beloved characters would go. I was generally wrong (except for Jorah and Theon), but I don’t care.
Full disclosure: I may be the only GOT fan who couldn’t possibly care less about Gendry or the Mormont girl. She’s great. Fine. But after the scene where they wanted to use her, she’s been kind of overblown, in my opinion. Her death was pretty badass, though. I enjoyed it. But it didn’t have the kind of emotional punch I was looking for.
Question: Where the hell did Bran go? He was away for an awfully long time, warged into those ravens. Where did they go? We didn’t really see. I’ve been saying since Bran started having visions that he was the key to everything, and I still think so. So, if that missing time is accounted for in a future episode, I am fine with it. If not, that’s some pretty shitty storytelling.
I also had an issue with the Red Priestess’s death. We saw her take off the jewel once before, just to go to bed. So, why does she seem to age and die instantaneously from taking it off? Also, I would have preferred if Davos had killed her the next morning for killing Stannis’s daughter. That would have been Stannis brand justice, akin to Davos carrying around the bones of his fingers that Stannis cut off after Davos rescued him for smuggling. Yes, she helped the living now, but she still burned an innocent girl, so she must die. That would have made be much happier.
Those criticisms stated, the bulk of the episode had none of those problems. I expected many people to die. And then the red priestess lit the Dothraki blades, and even I had to raise a little glimmer of hope. But, when they road off and we watched — with no underscoring — the lights go out one by one…THAT is effective storytelling, friends. I was IN.
The music on GOT is frequently awesome. But this week, they way they used silence was truly breathtaking. Just about every key moment was shown without music. The contrast was unsettling, which was wonderful. The foley art was equally awesome, as it usually is. The breaking glass sound as each wight was struck…chilling.
The effect of sound and visual was literally anxiety-inducing. I’ve read other reviewers complaining that the episode was too dark and that they couldn’t see anything. I did not have that problem (which honestly makes me wonder what their TV settings are). The only time it seemed like we couldn’t see was when the ice storm blew in around the dragons. But that was so clearly intentional and had me literally grinding my teeth. Much of this episode was a study in the terror of things you can’t see, and I thought they executed it brilliantly.
I am a little pissed at myself for not seeing the strategy of the dead marching into the fire to smother it and create bridges a mile off. It is so logical, and yet I didn’t see it coming until the third wight marched into the trench. And then it was frightening.
The battle was chaotic in the extreme. Even now, I’m not 100% certain who lived and who died. But a whole lot of red-shirted ensigns bit it.
To the Godswood. Did Theon redeem himself? I know Bran said he did, but Bran isn’t really a human anymore. He’s the Three-Eyed Raven. Theon murdered two innocent young farm boys so that he could pretend he had killed Bran and Rickon. That’s horrific. Yes, he saved Sansa, his sister and defended Bran, but he’s still a scumbag murderer. My own answer is: no. So, his death did not make me sad, per se, but it was still really well told and worked the plot forward.
In the end, it had to be Arya. It was always Arya. As soon as the Red Woman brought back the, “brown eyes, green eyes, (pause) BLUE eyes” line, we had to know beyond any reasonable doubt. And then it was just a question of how she got there. I will admit that she seemed to kind of come out of the trees, but so what? It has been long established that she can move silently, so why not now? I literally raised my hands in victory.
This is the type of storytelling that Benioff and Weiss really excel at. Powerful visuals, building tension, integrating practical and special effects, etc. Palace intrigue and character building I have somewhat less faith in from them. But this episode, for now, was brilliant.
There are some questions going forward. Was, now, the Night King just a distraction? Now that it’s done, did the Night King matter at all? Because they still need to take out the Golden Company. And they’re vastly depleted. Granted, they have two dragons, but they’re all traumatized and beaten, and many are dead forever.
But, given there are only three episodes left, I think these should skew toward what this show does very well. Should be a good, bloody time. I continue to hope people we love die. *fingers crossed*